National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 4 (II:2) 1964

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Two Drawings by Parmigianino

by A. E. Popham

Résumé en français

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  

The first of the two drawings by Parmigianino recently acquired for the National Gallery is a study for the Madonna dal collo lungo (Fig. I), a picture commissioned from the artist by Elena Baiardi, widow of Francesco Tagliaferri, on 23 December 1534, for her chapel in the Chiesa dei Servi di Maria in Parma. He undertook in the contract (1) to complete the painting by Pentecost of the following year, but it was not placed on the altar of the chapel until 1542, after the artist's death and it was still not entirely finished. It is satisfactory to be in a position to provide definite information of this character about a drawing but one would also like to know to what stage in the protracted evolution of the work the study belonged. There are at least twenty drawings which have come down to us made in preparation for the picture, (2) and it is a task of some difficulty to arrange them in the order of their execution. Indeed it is doubtful whether any certainty on the subject is attainable, but it seems worth while making the attempt in the case of a painting of such outstanding importance in the development of Mannerism as the Madonna dal collo lungo.

In the present context we can, I think, eliminate any consideration of the background figures of St Jerome and his companion, for which there are a number of studies, and confine ourselves to the figures of the Madonna and Child in their general setting. Nor do I think it necessary to enlarge on my theory that the Madonna dal collo lungo developed from an earlier composition, in which the Virgin and Child are represented enthroned on a pedestal, flanked on the left by St Jerome and on the right by St Francis, represented by a drawing in the Louvre, (3) though the resemblance between the large scale St Jerome there and his diminutive figure in the picture and the various studies for it seems to me conclusive. I will limit my remarks to the drawings which are definitely in preparation for the picture as it finally emerged.

It will, I think, be easiest to see which of these most closely resembles the picture and, assuming that to have been the last one drawn, to work backwards. Such a drawing is the red chalk study in the Louvre (4) (Fig. 2), in which the figure of the Virgin almost exactly corresponds with her appearance in the picture. The set ting moreover with the row of columns abruptly foreshortened behind on the right, the platform and the cushion on which the Virgin rests her right foot and the angel holding the amphora on the left with the curtain above his head are almost identical; only his three companions, as well as the background figure of St Jerome, are absent and rather surprisingly the Infant Christ Himself (except for His legs which are lightly sketched in a position which differs somewhat from that in the picture). A slight sketch, in the Pierpont Morgan Library, of the headless Virgin with the complete Child on her lap (5) would seem to have been made as a complement to the Louvre drawing, as do studies at Budapest of the angel with the amphora, in which the drapery of the Virgin's right leg and the legs of the Infant Christ are included. (6) There are other studies of detail corresponding fairly closely with those in the painting and with the drawing in the Louvre (Fig. 2): two in the British Museum for the drapery of the Virgin's bust including her right arm and hand; (7) for the Virgin's left leg, her right arm and for the body of the Infant Christ in the Huntington Library (8) and for the Child alone in the Louvre, (9) though His attitude differs considerably from that in the picture. One must suppose that Parmigianino had now reached a stage in the production of the work when he was satisfied with the general composition, the lines of which may already have been laid in on the panel, and was carefully working out the details bit by bit. Curiously enough it seems to have been the figure of the Infant Christ, to this day not entirely finished, which remained in a fluid state almost to the last.

In the Louvre drawing (Fig. 2) the Virgin is turned to the left, places her right hand to her bosom and rests her right foot on a cushion. These are all essential ingredients of the painting and of the drawings which we have hitherto considered. Another arresting feature is the presence on the extreme left, partly cut off by the edge of the picture, of a well-grown angel holding a large amphora. (10) In all the other studies for the whole composition known to me the Virgin is invariably seated with her body and legs turned to the right. In one of these, also in the Louvre (11) (Fig. 3) her position corresponds almost exactly with the picture, but in reverse. Here her left hand touches her bosom in the same coquettish gesture and her left foot is similarly raised on a cushion, the architecture of the columned temple is the same and in the same relative position and there are two purri on the left, one of whom holds the symbolic amphora. The Child does not appear at all, but a figure corresponding to that of St Jerome in the picture is scribbled in. I think it can be assumed that this little sketch precedes, but not necessarily by a long interval, the other drawing in the same collection (Fig. 2). Going back still further, I suppose, we come to two more drawings (Figs. 4 and 5) both in the Louvre. (12) In these a new element is introduced with the youthful St John the Baptist, who, kneeling on one knee on the extreme left in the place of the amphora-carrying angel, points at the Infant Saviour seated upright on His Mother's lap. His attitude is a much modified repetition of that of his older counterpart in the National Gallery Vision of St Jerome. St Jerome himself, represented on a much larger scale than in the painting of the Madonna dal collo lungo, is included, as well as the architectural background, which differs from the later representations in that the temple is less sharply foreshortened, is placed higher up in the composition and that other buildings are included. A third drawing in the Louvre (13) is a partial study of the Madonna and Child in this version, with St John the Baptist indicated by a few lines and a separate study of the Virgin 's head and bust.

Now at last we get back to the Ottawa drawing (Fig. 6), which represents yet another and presumably still earlier idea for the picture. (14) That it must be a study for this picture is apparent on comparing it with the second of the two Louvre drawings even though this is a copy (Fig. 5), but there are remarkable differences. The attitude of the saint on the right, supposedly St Jerome, differs from that in any of the other drawings; in the two connected Louvre drawings in which he appears, he places his right hand on top of his head in a gesture signifying profound meditation. Here his arms are crossed over his chest. The temple is raised still higher at the top of a flight of steps; the composition has an arched top and St John the Baptist has been replaced by a winged boy angel seen from the back who either takes the Infant Christ from, or gives Rim back to, His Mother. I think we may recognize this boy angel in a minute sketch in the Louvre (15) (Fig. 7), one of five drawings which Mariette had mounted together on one sheet and which included a sketch for the St Jerome in the Madonna dal collo lungo.

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